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European Starling

European Starling

A friend once asked me what beautiful bird was it that bravely sang so melodiously, so close to him. I sighed as I told him it was the European Starling.

He is right; the European Starling is a beautiful bird. By spring their white-speckled chest feathers become iridescent black and green. They have pink legs and a bright yellow beak. A pale blue on the lower mandible can distinguish males. The female bill is pink at the base and is a paler yellow. Non-breeding adults and juveniles are speckled and have brown bills. All measure around 8 ˝ inches in length.

European Starlings are pests. They were introduced by the Shakespearean Society, which planned to introduce into Central Park every bird mentioned by Shakespeare. In 1890, 60 birds were released, another 40 the next year. Since they are ‘habitat generalists’ they survive almost everywhere. They eat a huge variety of food. They are adept at nesting in urban settings using buildings and other structures and almost any cavity , especially savoring old woodpecker holes. They out-compete other hole-nesters such as bluebirds, woodpeckers and Purple Martins. Within 60 years they had reached the Pacific. In a century their numbers reached over 200 million, 1/3 of the world population.

Their rambling songs can imitate birds, mechanical squeaks and grinds, mewing cats and barking dogs. In spring the male advertises with song that he has found a nest site and he carries a flower or leaf in and out of the nest. Once the female accepts, she takes over the nest building, using grass and twigs. She lays 4-6 blue speckled eggs. She does most of the incubation but both feed the young. Fresh greens are added to the nest as a ‘fumigant’ to help rid the young of parasites. In good years they will have two or even three broods.

First published MCAS The Whistling Swan April 2010
Adult non-breeding European Starling. Photo Dennis Bowling.